Doctors and medical professionals are usually well-trained but a surprising number of them are not fully aware of the dangers of radiation exposure. High levels of radiation can cause cardiovascular disease, a number of cancers, and, in some cases, death. Those who work in healthcare can be exposed to radiation in various settings including x-ray imaging rooms, and over time, radiation buildup is not something anyone wants.
But if medical professionals take the proper precautions to prevent exposure, they won’t have to worry about suffering any adverse health effects. The 3 basic principles of radiation safety are time, distance, and shielding. These 3 principles are referred to as ALARA, which stands for “as low as reasonably achievable” (meaning your exposure to radiation is as low as it possibly can be.)
When someone is exposed to radiation, the longer their exposure, the greater their risk for suffering serious health effects. Radiation can build up in the body as long as you’re near the source. It’s strongly recommended that doctors leave the room when administering x-rays to patients, or at the very least, minimize their time in the x-ray room.
If doctors must be exposed to radiation, keeping a distance from the source is crucial. This principle is easy: The more you increase your distance, the more you decrease your dose of radiation.
In fact, due to a confusing mathematical concept, doctors who position themselves 2x the distance from the radiation source are, in theory, 4x more protected against the harmful effects of radiation. One study that examined radiographers even found that taking just two steps behind the source of radiation reduced the radiographers’ exposure by 80%, while another study concluded that being 20 cm away from the center of an x-ray machine can decrease your exposure to radiation by 73%.
Whenever you are in a room with radiation present, you’ll need to create a barrier between yourself and the radiation. The type of barrier depends on the type of radiation you’re exposed to, but it generally comes in the form of a lead apron, gloves, glasses, and a thyroid shield. This protective gear does not render you completely safe from radiation exposure, but it greatly reduces your level of exposure.
Despite the general effectiveness of these shielding devices, however, a large number of doctors do not use them. A study done in Korea found that while 80% of physicians used lead aprons and thyroid protectors, only 40% of them used lead glasses and a further 35% wore gloves. These worrying statistics are thought to be due to the high cost of shielding equipment and the lack of knowledge about radiation safety.
Follow the above principles, and you won’t have to worry about developing complications from radiation exposure. In a medical setting, ensuring your own safety is one thing you should do before anything else.
Written by Natan Rosenfeld